UN food body approves $250 million food aid to North Korea

SEOUL (AFP) - The UN food body on Saturday said it had approved US$200 million (S$250 million) of food aid for North Korea, targeting the country's most vulnerable people who remain dependent on external assistance.

The World Food Programme (WFP) executive board has this week approved a new two-year operation for North Korea starting on July 1, WFP spokesman Marcus Prior said.

"It will target about 2.4 million people - almost all children, and pregnant and nursing women - with about 207,000 metric tons of food assistance at a cost of US$200 million," he said in an email to AFP.

The WFP will continue to focus on the nutritional needs of young children and their mothers through food which will be manufactured in the North using ingredients imported by the food body, he said.

"WFP remains very concerned about the long-term intellectual and physical development of young children in particular who are malnourished due to a diet lacking in key proteins, fats and micronutrients," added Mr Prior.

In March, UN resident coordinator in North Korea Desiree Jongsma said timely imports from the WFP had contributed to avoiding a crisis this year but two thirds of the nation's 24 million population were still chronically food insecure.

Nearly 28 per cent of children under five in the North suffer from chronic malnutrition and four per cent are acutely malnourished, according to a UN national nutrition survey last year.

Overall production for the main 2012 harvest and early season crops this year was expected to reach 5.8 million tonnes, up 10 per cent on 2011-2012, UN agencies said in November.

But the poverty-stricken country is still struggling to eradicate malnutrition and provide its people with vital protein, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation and WFP said.

North Korea suffered regular chronic food shortages under the Kim dynasty, with the situation exacerbated by floods, droughts and mismanagement. During a famine in the mid to late-1990s, hundreds of thousands died.

International food aid, especially that from South Korea and the United States, has been drastically cut over the past several years amid tensions over the communist state's nuclear and missile programmes.

The US last provided food aid to North Korea from late 2008 to March 2009.

Some 170,000 tonnes out of an expected 500,000 tonnes was delivered, until Pyongyang expelled US workers monitoring the distribution.

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